Last Ride: 2018 Brick Township Football Preview
Since coming together as elementary-school kids and finding success at the youth level, Brick’s current senior class has been eagerly waiting to add to the high school’s championship legacy. Last year, when they were juniors, could have very well been a championship season, but injuries played a part in derailing what began as a promising campaign.
The 2018 season represents the final chance for a large and talented Green Dragons senior class to finish the job, a last ride of sorts for a group with only one thing on their minds.
“It’s very exciting,” said senior linebacker Richie Tallmadge. “Most of us have been playing together since we were five years old looking up to all the high schoolers. It’s crazy that it’s our last year so we’ve been working as hard as we can to make sure it’s our best.”
“This is something I’ve been looking forward to since I was seven years old playing with the same group of kids,” said senior quarterback/safety Jimmy Leblo. “This is our senior year and we have the power to make it special. These guys are all my brothers and I can’t wait to take the field for one last season with them.”
The Dragons bring back seven starters in their multiple set offense, which averaged 17.5 points per game last season. That number is a bit deceiving since Leblo missed five games in the middle of the season. When Brick’s offense was whole the Dragons averaged 24 points per game. Leblo is back as the starting quarterback after throwing for 522 yards and six touchdowns last season, but he isn’t the only player the Dragons can deploy at QB. Do-it-all senior Cole Groschel, a Shore Sports Network First Team All-Shore selection, saw time at quarterback, as did junior Anthony Prato. Leblo will be the primary signal-caller, but Brick has plenty of options with Groschel and Prato also available.
“The versatility is huge,” said Brick head coach Len Zdanowicz. “We can line up in our regular personnel and put one of three kids at quarterback.”
Groschel is the definition of a utility player and can legitimately be considered a returning starter at either quarterback, running back or wide receiver, and is also a returning starter in the secondary on defense. He ran for 746 yards and eight touchdowns on an average of 6.8 yards per carry, caught 34 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns and also threw for 106 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s awesome because no matter what you’re always in the game,” Groschel said.
“Having him back as the special player he is with the ability to throw the ball, run the ball and catch the ball, we’re going to do it all with the kid,” Zdanowicz said.
In addition to seeing time at quarterback, Prato will line up at wide receiver where he made several starts last season. Junior Val Grigorian and senior Anton Svirskyi will also see time at wide receiver. The tight ends are seniors Cory Englehardt and Jake Weatherspool.
Senior Joey Carchio is back as the starting running back while Tallmadge and senior Christian Malta each made starts at fullback last season and return in the same roles. Senior Jacob Wynkoop saw significant time at running back last season and brings an element of speed to the position.
Two starters return on the offensive line with senior Zach Piscope (6-0, 270), a Class A South All-Division selection last year, at center and junior John Beveridge (6-0, 245) at right guard. Junior John Costanza (6-3, 220) steps in at left tackle and senior Andre Edgerton (6-2, 250) is the right tackle. The left guard spot is being contested between juniors Max Zdanowicz and Tyler DeTata and freshman Darian Newcomb.
Brick’s defense was one of the Shore Conference’s best last season, finishing eighth in scoring defense at 15.3 points per game while recording three shutouts. Nine starters return in the Dragons’ multiple 40 front, which figures to be among the best in the conference once again.
Englehardt, a Class A South All-Division pick as a junior, returns at defensive end after recording 110 tackles last season. Malta is a returning starter at defensive tackle. Costanza starts at the other defensive end spot while the other defensive tackle spot will be manned by Weatherspool and senior Dana Andrews.
Every player in the back seven is either a returning starter or saw significant time last season. Tallmadge, a returning All-Division player, was tied for third in the Shore with 131 tackles last season and returns at middle linebacker. Carchio is back at outside linebacker after recording 66 tackles and four sacks last season. Senior Dylan DeAlmeida started in the second half of last season and returns at the other outside linebacker position.
Prato and senior Mike McGuigan Jr. are the cornerbacks with senior Damian Bonafide also slated to see playing time. McGuigan had 50 tackles and four interceptions last season. The safeties are Groschel and Leblo with senior John Strich, who started five games when Leblo was out, ready to step in when either Groschel or Leblo need a breather. Senior Sean Kalp will also see time in the defensive backfield. Groschel made 55 tackles and tied for second in the Shore with five interceptions last season.
“This group, we pride ourselves on defense,” Tallmadge said. “We want to be like the (Baltimore) Ravens in 2000, to dominate like that, where if we score first we win the game. We know we have the talent, we just have to execute.”
‘Our defense, hopefully, is going to be stellar,” Leblo said. ‘Since we were little we always said ‘you’ve never been hit until you’ve been hit by Brick’ and that’s always something I keep in my mind.”
On special teams, Wynkoop returns as the kicker and Carchio will be the punter.
The new Shore Conference division alignment has Brick in the Colonial Division with Brick Memorial, St. John Vianney, Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown North and Freehold. On paper, it’s the best division in the Shore. The Dragons also have nondivisional games with Jackson Memorial, Lacey and Lakewood. As usual, they’ll open their season against rival Brick Memorial.
From the time they began to understand what it means to play football for one of the Shore’s most storied programs, Brick’s seniors have dreamed of winning a state championship while wearing the program’s iconic green and white uniforms. Now it’s just a matter of going out and getting it done.
“I think back to when they were freshmen and we brought them up toward the end of the season,” Zdanowicz said. “We were 8-1 and heading to the playoffs and we had a good group of seniors, and these kids were playing scout and sticking our guys. Every coach was like, ‘wow’. From that point on these kids took the field like they belonged. It’s been a pleasure to coach them. It’s a special group of kids and I can’t wait to see how far they can go.”
“Our goal every year is to get the final stage,” Tallmadge said. “We’ve been close and it’s the one hump we have to get over. Two years ago, we were there and couldn’t finish the job. This year we plan on finishing it.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Len Zdanowicz, fourth season.
Career record: 22-11.
2017 record: 6-5 (5-2 in A South).
Coaching staff: Brian McNamara (def. coordinator); Kevin Stockhoff (off. coordinator/QB); Jared Kight (OL); Andrew Cruz (TE); Jay Groschel (WR); Dave Christopher (RB); Al Saner (offensive asst.); Chris Blackburn (DL); Bill McDonnell (LB); George McNamara (defensive asst.); Kurt Wieboldt (special teams); Don Marino (head freshmen coach); Chad Dougherty (freshmen def. coordinator); Scott Karos, Dan Dornacker, Wayne Neidermier (freshmen assistants); Jim Barber (athletic trainer).
Defense: Multiple 40
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jake Weatherspool, Sr., TE/DT
Brick returns basically all its impact players from last season, but one key loss is Chris Hirtes, who played tight end and defensive tackle and was selected to play in the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic this summer. Weatherspool will step into a starting spot on defense and should also see time at tight end.
X-FACTOR: Staying healthy
Brick had 31 players miss games due to injury between varsity and JV last season, according to Zdanowicz. No team can sustain those kinds of losses and come through unscathed, although the Dragons were able to regroup late in the season. If they can avoid a similar situation in 2018 they’ll be in the mix for division and state championships.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: John Costanza, Jr., OL/DL
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Costanza can make an impact on both sides of the ball as a new starter at offensive and defensive tackle.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 at Brick Memorial
Brick’s scheduled is filled with quality opponents and any game could serve as the tipping point of the season, but the season-opening game against arch rival Brick Memorial will always be the one that sticks out. It should be a capacity crowd at DiFabio Field where the Dragons will try to win their sixth straight game in the series.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.